Here's an interesting band from Paris—the one in France—one of those rare bands to fairly have a page of their own on both Metal Archives and Prog Archives. That's because they play progressive music that draws strongly from both rock and metal and often seems to sit in between the two. My initial impressions of Reset to Preset, the opening track, were that it was prog rock, and it is, but I realised that it ventured into prog metal then had to adjust again because the production wants it to be prog rock. This is Lalu's third album and I have to wonder what the prior two were like, partly because the band is hardly prolific, those earlier albums being released in 2005 and 2013.
The most overt influence I could find was Yes and that holds true on the predominantly prog rock of Reset to Preset or the more obviously prog metal song that follows it, ambitiously titled Won't Rest Until the Heat of the Earth Burns the Soles of Our Feet Down to the Bone, and on through a majority of the album. It's most overt in the vocals of Damian Wilson, best known for his work for Threshold and Headspace, but it's in the music too, with an intricate instrumental journey in each song for each instrument.
The band is named for keyboardist Vivien Lalu, who doesn't betray as clear a Yes influence. Sure, there's some Rick Wakeman in what he does—most obvious in the intro to Witness to the World— but I hear others too, including Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment, who is even present as a guest on The Chosen Ones. Oddly, most of the guests are keyboardists, a surprise perhaps best explained by allowing Lalu to play alongside a host of friends and mentors. Hey, is there a better reason to create a band?
Rudess is the biggest keyboard name, though I see legendary bassist Tony Franklin on a couple of tracks and drummer Simon Phillips on one and, in both instances, it would be far easier to list who they haven't played for than who they have. Jens Johansson, of Stratovarius, is the most prolific guest contributor, appearing on three songs, including the keyboard heavy Lost in Conversation. I have to say that, with all these keyboards, it's almost surprising to notice other instruments, but there's a good balance between musicians, even if the guitar is lower in the mix.
I liked this album from the outset, but I didn't feel that it was anything particularly special until I got to Standing at the Gates of Hell, easily the standout track for me. It's track seven, but the first one that found a powerful groove and stayed in it. It's majestic more than it's intricate and, when it gets intricate, it does so in a very different way, leaping headlong into jazz territory. Excepting guest contributions, of which there are none on this track, all the guitarwork here is provided by Joop Wolters, both bass and regular electric guitar, and he's clearly having an absolute blast on a song like this. He's released at live five albums under his own name, which unsurprisingly mix jazz fusion with progressive metal. I should check them out.
I don't want to suggest that the album picks up at this late point, because earlier songs are good ones, but this is where my favourites come in. The Chosen Ones pitches Yes at Dream Theater, not only because of Jordan Rudess's inclusion but also Simone Mularoni's, he being the guitarist for a few different bands, including DGM and Sunstorm. I last heard his guitar on the Queen of Broken Hearts album by Issa earlier in 2021 and, the more I hear, the more I want to hear. It's Wolters on Sweet Asylum, a pristine guitar interlude before the epic We are Strong, one of three tracks here to pass seven minutes and aim at eight. It's a generous release, even without the bonus track.
Everything I do at Apocalypse Later ties to discovery and this allowed me to discover not only Lalu the band, but Vivian Lalu the keyboardist and his guitarist Joop Wolters, who has a whole career of his own to explore. It also reminded me, not that I needed the nudge, of the talents of vocalist Damian Wilson and guitarist Simone Mularoni. And, what's more, it ably highlights how much the Frontiers label is expanding their already wildly impressive roster in new directions. This isn't the melodic rock that they're justifiably known for; it's prog rock that dabbles in prog metal, but it's a good fit for them. I look forward to more unusual Frontiers releases.